By; Jacob Onjewu Dickson.
The National Agency for Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) has doused the tension that Nigerian market is flooded with fake, substandard and cancer causing tomato paste just as they also denied the report credited to the agency that about 91% of tomato paste in the country is fake.
This disclosure was made on Thursday in Abuja during a public hearing on a bill organised by a Joint Committee on Health Care Services, Drugs and Narcotics, on allegations of ‘Importation of Fake, Substandard and Cancer causing Tomato paste into Nigeria”, sequel to a motion by Hon. Nicholas Ossai on the floor of the House.
NAFDAC claimed that they could not clamp down on any company despite the overwhelming evidence that about 91% of tomato paste in the country was contaminated because the tomato samples were taken from the Lagos market only, insisting that the standard practice was that there must be a second confirmation test which will cover all parts of the country before a conclusion could be reached.
The spokesman of NAFDAC said that after a confirmation test was carried out in March 2016, the level of contamination dropped to 33% hence, there was no need to blacklist any company.
He further claimed that the findings from the tested tomato paste does not reveal the presence of any carcinogen, which is a cancer causing substance but only paste with inadequate nutritional content.
In a swift reaction, the legal adviser of Erisco Foods, Abdulrahman Kadiri, alleged that NAFDAC carried out test on 300 samples of the tomato paste and came out with the report that about 91.9% failed the test.
“NAFDAC in their report said that the tomato paste in question is cancer causing and aggravates diabeties, saying that NAFDAC kept threatening them (Erisco) each time they tell the Minister to speak on the cancer causing tomato paste. We were recently slammed a fine of N1,000.000 payable in 30 days for speaking on the danger of the cancer causing tomato paste” Erisco alleged.
The President of Erisco Foods, Eric Umeofia also accused NAFDAC of conniving with tomato paste importers to frustrate local manufacturers.
Adding their voice, Dangote Foods represented by Abdulkarim Kaita, MD, Dangote Processing plant, Kano said that on their visit to China, they saw bulk expired tomato paste which the manufacturers will later mix with the good ones to be canned and sent to Nigeria. He equally revealed that if a company is not in the production line, the company will still get some degree of substandard product unless her staff is supervising the production line in China.
He said that when Dangote factory came on board, the prize of tomato paste in China came down from $1,100 FOB to $700 FOB to ensure that local manufacturers do not compete as Nigeria is the highest consumer of tomato in Africa.
The Managing Director of Savanna Integrated farms, Mohammed Albishir, an indigenous company, established in 1957 which has complete tomato paste product line with 20 million sqm tomato farm, 600 metric tones of paste per day with over 875 staff, and 300 casual workers acknowledged that Nigerians do import sub-standard tomato, revealing that 10 years ago, he saw some containers in Italy that were Nigeria bound with made in China goods which confirms that substandard tomato come into the country.
Categorizing the ban on importation of tomato paste, he said that Nigeria has only 10% capacity for tomato production while she is a route to the West Africa, adding that the porous border being given as excuses by customs does not hold water as products can be traced back to the importers from the market and ware houses.
He supported ban on the small sachet with stronger and stringent measure on the importation of drum tomato paste.
In defence of NAFDAC, Bar. Ikenna Mbazulike-Amechi, representing some 24 tomato paste importers exonerated themselves from the xenophobic utterances of some companies, saying that the report from NAFDAC claiming that 91.1% of tomato paste in the country was not signed but an internal memo of NAFDAC. He said that tomato paste does not cause cancer as carcinogen which causes cancer is not found in a tomato paste, claiming that their product is more expensive yet they have more of the market value.
He said that the tomato specie prevalent is not the yield to be used in tomato paste because of its high water content adding that if BOI can give credit on single digit, then they will cash in on it and begin local manufacturing.
Olam foods, manufacturers of Derica and Tasty Tom denied involvement in the importation of fake tomato paste while Gino tomato paste also denied knowledge of and distribution of tomato paste in Nigeria. Gino said that they import tripple concerntrate of paste from Europe and Japan with a small percentage coming from China, adding that they don’t import retail parts and the quality of their products is the same all over, challenging any local company which can give them triple concentrate to come up with their bill.
Sonia foods represented by Nnamdi Nnodife, said that he started importing in 2006 but began local assembly in 2009 but sourcing of tomato paste in drums has been difficult due to scarcity of forex.
Olufemi Johnson representing Firebrand manufacturing company distanced himself from importing fake substandard tomato paste, calling on the house to be fair and faithful in their investigations, saying that they import from China and has CRIS certificate.
The ministry of Health represented by Prof. Isaac Olorumfemi Adewale, said that their ministry supports all measures to ensure the availability of safe foods and encourages local production, adding that food safety must be institutionalized.
The Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) spokesman, Adeyemi Folorunsho, called for ban on tomato paste in retail bags as it contained carcinogenic substances which is injurious to body.
The Bank of Industry Managing Director Waheed Olagunju represented by Kadafaran supported in its entirety the ban on sub- standard foods, saying that it is not the bank’s mandate to provide funding for the importation of any product but can provide support to local farmers to improve the quantity and quality of yield and also support the processing of foods for local consumption and exportation.The Committee Chairman said that the committee will stop at nothing to investigate the matter, test it in the lab both at home and abroad and publish the list of the companies or products that import or produce injurious, fake, substandard and cancerous tomato paste for Nigerians to be cautious.